I think, especially for a first-time user, if a chap can grab a Gillette DE at a good price on eBay, it would be a great starting point. However, it appears the winning bids for such razors are on the rise. Regardless, I think if a person keeps at it, he may luck out. I would suggest the person try to get a Gillette adjustable DE because it gives the user the ability to set blade exposure. I have two vintage Gillette DE razors, one adjustable and the other non-adjustable. I prefer the adjustable because I like a lower setting than what is fixed into the non-adjustable. As to how the old Gillette DE compares with Merkur, hard for me to note any great differences. First, most of the Merkur DE's are non-adjustable. If I were to compare the non-adjustable Gillette DE to the non-adjustable Merkurs, I may pick the non-adjustable Merkurs simply because the fixed setting seems to be lower than that on the non-adjustable Gillette. Of course, each individual would have to judge the various Merkur non-adjustables for shape, balance, head-weight ... and all the other characteristics important to each individual. My preference in the non-adjustable class is Merkur's Classic long handle; I like the setting, and I prefer a razor with a long handle. As for the Gillette adjustable compared to the few adjustables put out by Merkur, I think it performs very well. For my taste, I am not certain anything from Merkur out-performs the Gillette. The Vision, though a magnificent looking razor, and certainly one you should consider for the bathroom just for the "look", is just too damn bulky. I really do not know how any gentleman shaves with this monster. The Futur, another beauty of a razor, is not very well balanced, and watch out if your hands are wet with a little soap, the thing has a tendency to slip through the fingers. That is, it is very hard to control. Merkur's Progress is probably the closest in style and shape to Gillette and, from QED, the #1 best selling Merkur razor. Does it perform BETTER than the Gillette ... not that I can see.
The issue of which is the best DE is, like all matters connected with men's toiletries, a matter of personal taste. No one, including me, can tell you what is best. You have to discover for yourself. Major problem, you cannot buy razor samples, and the price of some of these tools, especially the Vision, isn't inexpensive.
If you've never used a DE before, I suggest you buy some Bic METAL throw-away plastic razors. They have long handles, and are a nice starting tool just to test if you like the DE in general. Then you can move on to something more serious.
Does any of this help?
Q E D
P.S. I normally do not comment about specific brands because I am a retailer, and I believe forums, like ShaveMyFace, are for consumers. Besides, some of the comments I've made above would certainly not aid me in selling Merkurs. The reality is this, I have sold, many times over, ALL the razors from Merkur, and many many MANY chaps love the individual razors they've purchased. Certainly most gents on this forum have seen very positive comments about Merkur's Vision, Future, Progress, HD, etc., from many satisfied users. Keep in mind I am only one person, and my statements are entitled to one vote. Gather in as much feedback as you can on this subject, and then move in the direction that seems best.